Yuri Tarnopolsky                                                                                                                                                                               ESSAYS
24. On Myself

ideology. systems. large and small systems. simple and complex systems. individuality.  topology. Randall Collins.

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Essay 24.  On Myself


There are various ways to see the world: rational and religious, philosophical and scientific, historical and static, in terms of matter and energy, subject and object, animate and inanimate,  order and chaos, fact and image, code and expression, good and evil, etc.

The Everything is not a pronoun but the whole viewed through a prism that splits the whole into blocks and bonds between them. It is not just a list of all things but the list of their neighborhoods, i.e., all the other things directly connected to the given one.

Myself is definitely a pronoun and it stands in a mysterious and troubling relation to Everything.

  "Everything is water," we could echo Thales of Miletus. A Graham Greene's character makes a casual note at a funeral in  The Human Factor:

It was a pity one couldn't throw a man back into the river of life as one could throw a fish.
    Graham Greene, The Human Factor

Life is like river: it runs only downward. Loss, error, illness, and often even love are catastrophic waterfalls.

 A man in love walks through the world like an anarchist carrying a time bomb.
Graham Greene, The Human Factor

 The river overflows the dams of  gain, victory, and triumph,  losing energy along the way. The energy of the sun can return the water back from the ocean to the river head, but there is little solace for an individual in the turnover of matter. For millennia, only the soul has been a matter of concern.

With so much affection on my part for the unity of the Everything, as with any affection, it is easy to lose the sober view of the object: the Everything has a composite nature. It is made of our internal individual world and the external one like the surface of the Earth is made of land and water. The two components are dramatically different: the solid land has borders and the fluid ocean does not.
As with all borderlines, even the distinction between land and water is blurred in the swamp and in the tidal zone of the sand beach.
Of course, we, humans, are islands, but we are made of salt,  share the same rain, and have our own brooks running into the ocean.
Myself, however, is not a part of We.

The presence of humans in the picture of Everything calls for a coarse classification of its components. If the humans could conspicuously stand apart, it  would certainly break the unity. Humans need to have some neighbors in the systematics of Everything.

As an exercise in such rough classification , I see the following basic division of Everything along two dimensions: complexity and size. On complexity, see Essay 17, On Complexity.  Instead of size I could say "multiplicity." I prefer, however, a down-to-earth term to a technical one. Anyway, they both need explanation.
I understand size as the property of  having multiple copies of similar units or blocks (generators). A physicist would call this property degeneration (see NOTE 1), the bad connotation of which makes yet another argument on behalf of size. A more direct argument: one is one, but many can be counted in the units of one. Size is a number of unities.  The sequences 11111 and 111 have different size. Neither
Myself nor Everything has size in the sense I use this tern here. They are singular.

Listing the following four types of systems, I illustrate them by sequences of numbers in square brackets, to give an intuitive idea. This classification is not rigorous and logical: it is intuitive.

1. Simple small (SS) systems.[ 1 2 3 4]

The clockwork mechanism  has a limited number of parts and they can be in a limited number of states. The clockwork's behavior is highly predictable. Most man-made Things belong to this category, at least ideally.   I would put the solar system in this category, too, but it does not matter because we cannot do anything about it.

Simple and small systems deserve respect. They are the real tidal zones of the Everything from which the creatures of higher status have been crawling out since the genesis of life on earth.  Among SS systems we see the extremely important switching device as well as the Turing machine (see also Essay 15, On menage a trois in the Stone Age).

Watching the behavior of my personal computer,  I can see that it is a clockwork with an attitude of its own, which, I suspect, is inspired by Microsoft ideology.

2. Large simple (LS) systems.   [2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 ......]

Even a droplet of water consists of a very large number of indistinguishable molecules. A single molecule of water represents all the water in the universe.  To be accurate, the molecules of water have somewhat different properties such as speed, rotation, and even shape, but they constantly and very quickly change them.  Water is a statistical ensemble.

LS systems contain multiple identical (or closely similar) copies of a limited number of species.

3. Small complex  (SC) systems.   [ 1 2 3 4 5 ....N; N is a large number]

Small complex systems have a large variety of components but a few duplicates.

We have only one brain, one left eye, one right eye, and one digestive system.  Such systems have their statistics, too, but in time instead of space. Individual animal and human are such systems. They are complex, because of a large number of components, states, and interactions, but small because they are not in multiple copies (except at the cellular level).

The fate of the system that is not an ensemble of a large number of similar units but a structure where a large number of components exist in a single copy can be catastrophic: it has no spare parts. A symmetrical organism with pairs of organs and extremities is a weak compromise. The systems of this kind are almost as vulnerable to catastrophes as the watch under the mallet, but they still have significant flexibility because their cellular subsystems are large.

We can put some large Things and institutions, like airliner, ship, and business company, into the same category. They all have unique functional points or organs and they have a limited margin of viability with duplicated systems, like the US government with president and vice-president.
Living organisms, including humans, from this point of view, fall into this category.

4. Large complex (LC) systems.   [1 1 1 1.... 2 3 4 4 4 ... 5 6 6 6 ....]

Social ensembles of humans are large and complex, but not because all humans are as different as the parts of the clock. The similarity between humans largely exceeds the differences between the types. Such systems may seem simple, and in a sense they are, but only in a very limited sense. Ensembles of consumers are certainly almost as simple as ants.
Society and ecosystem have a large number of units consisting of large number of individuals.
The complexity of modern society comes not as much from the radical differences between human components (as it is in the case of organism) as from the hierarchical structure of the society. People take positions in a unique structure where any position can be filled up with a number of different people.

Society has statistics over both time and space.

It is very difficult to destroy a nation, culture, and ethnicity. They rather evolve and merge than go down in an instant because an empty position in the structure can be replenished from the mere number of identical or closely similar components. In this aspect, societies and biological species are like water. No revolution or war can completely destroy a politically developed nation, at least it has never happened in thousand years (I might be wrong), although mass extinctions might have happened in early history and attempts are fresh in memory. Colonial history, too, might provide some sad examples.

NOTE: History and the Bible left the names of many peoples that do not exist anymore, but their genes and memes are spread among existing nations and cultures. At the same time, there are a lot of modern ethnicities that carry very ancient names, not only Egyptians, Iranians, and Jews, but also less known ones, like Assyrians.  There is an interesting discussion on Assyrians, Egyptians, Jews, and other modern descendants of legendary ancient peoples: 1, 2.

In the surrounding world, therefore, we see four kinds of dynamic systems that conventionally can be called, somewhat like car models:

SS: small and simple (clockwork)
LS: large and simple (matter)
SC: small and complex (organisms, large Things, institutions)
LC: large and complex (society, ecosystem, economy).

The above types not only have fuzzy borders but can form composites. Thus, an organism is mostly water. Society comprises humans, Things, and even some animals. The Everything includes them all.

The purpose of my classification is nothing but to show the composite (heterogeneous) character of the Everything as I see it, with the important difference between the unique and the multiple.  The main subject of this Essay, however, is an even coarser classification.

Does Everything include Myself?

Once we are inside our own skin and look at both the world outside and the world inside, talk to ourselves and write diaries, we are absolutely unique and singular. We are as unique as the Everything.

Almost everything in the world exists in many copies: stars, atoms, plants, animals, Things, books, people. Even a unique piece of visual art can be coded, stored, and reproduced with most of its content preserved, and a documentary is a fair enough substitute for a trip to a faraway place. Even extinct species can be reconstructed in a movie. Modern art in general (Essay 20, On Artificial Art ) can be approximately reconstructed simply by walking through its combinatorial space and finding a similar and close object. This may be true about any art, as soon as we know the dimensions of the creative space. Any cubist picture of Pablo Picasso or Francis Bacon can be redeformed into a new, recognizable, but yet unseen picture. We simply crawl through the combinatorial space of art, as a worm through an apple, visiting Raphael, Rembrandt, and Rothko and imitating them, as the art forgers do. Moreover, we can mate, blend, and cross them. Transformations of this kind are often done in theater and architecture.

One could say that the same is true about any individual representative of a species. The combinatorial dimensions of a species of fish (scales, fins, eyes, shape, etc.) can produce all possible individual  fish of this species, and the same can be true about humans. Apparently, evolution was playing with pieces of genetic Lego when it constructed new species. The fish, however, do not leave diaries, and we do not know how one diary would differ from another.
To tell the truth, all human diaries are, in a way, alike, but not for their authors.

The individual is unique, alone, and if it breaks down like Humpty-Dumpty, it cannot be put together again. The species, on the contrary, are resilient, adaptable, and they would rather evolve into other species than completely perish. The dinosaurs go on living as lizards. Monarchy goes on living as monopoly. Aristocracy lives on as rich and famous. Even feudalism lives on as modern company (Essay 5. On Medieval America).

Myself does not fit any of the four classes of Everything because it is small and large at the same time.
It is small because nothing in it exists in multiple copies.
It is large because it reflects large systems, lives among them, and manipulates them.

It is not human species but Myself, I, Me that stands apart and breaks the symmetry of Everything, its systematics, and neat logic. I belongs to Everything and stands outside of it at the same time.  It is a stressful subject if you think about it too much. The brook of philosohy has been running through millennina from this crack in our mind.

  It is the mystery of the individual consciousness that divides Everything into its land and water, with a twilight zone where the dream and the fact are both just gray shadows. It is from the interface between them, I believe, that art comes into the outer light.

From the double nature of the Everything-Myself relation come not only art and  philosophy, but also religion, science, politics, and the mundane experience that could be managed well without philosophy and religion.

More important, from it comes ideology, which is neither of the above. Ideology spans from the primate of the anthill over the ant to the ideology of ultimate regal individualism: Après moi le déluge.  Ideology is always centered on an individual. Mass ideology simply means that the majority has the same personal ideology.

I believe that the subject of the relation between myself and others is the core of ideology. It is not completely covered by ethics and philosophy.

Examples of ideologies:

I am unique and others are not similar to myself. I am all that matters. Us is temporary and opportunistic.

I am unique but others are similar to myself and I can identify myself with them up to a point.

I am unique but a few others are Us, an extension of myself. The rest are a different kind, Them.

I am unique and others are extensions of myself. Who hurts them hurts me.

The herd, flock, and pack ideology is not quite what altruism means because the latter is always personal: it is a sacrifice for another person or a couple of the closest ones. Altruism is a form of egotism: alter-egotism. Collectivism of the Soviet type required a sacrifice for the faceless society, and, apparently, so does Islamic brotherhood.

Something like the Cuban Patria o muerte  was valued in the antiquity more than altruism. I cannot deny that the collectivist idea has an instinctive appeal. Many people risk their lives for strangers, lands, and ideals. To die for an idea sounds great and martyrs are worshipped.
I suspect, however, that it is the iron cage of Us that in tribal "anti-something" ideologies limits the freedom of an individual who, in a loose net of individualism, would value his or her life more than principles. A circle of friends, the most benign form of Us, can seriously limit the freedom of an individual not just by peer pressure but by the height of the transition barrier on the way out. A teenager may prefer to die rather than break the bonds, and a terrorist may prefer to die rather than betray trust or break an oath.
The ways of life of teenagers and terrorists seem evolutionary archaic as compared with the modern American denial of loyalty (see NOTE 2).

  The others—how much are they like myself? This is what ideology is about.  The views of a dictator, racist, Marxist, nationalist, humanist, terrorist, criminal, and even a big boss mark up different ideologies. Ideology sorts out the people into Me, Us, and Them.

The essence of a political ideology is entirely topologic: there is a selected point, its neighborhood, and the rest of the space. Ideology is topology (see Essay 22, On Errors) on a set with a selected point.

Here are some examples of ideologies constructed from three elements: I, Us, and Them. There could be more combinations.



1. I am a part of Us, the rest are Them. There is a border between Us and Them.
2.  I  am part of Us, but there are others like me  ( Myself =16-Point Star: I).


    3.  There are others like me but Us has open borders and can overlap.
    4. There are others like me in Us but We have closed borders, and the rest are Them.

There can be variations within this and other types depending on the structure of relationship between individuals: equality, domination, dictatorship, theocracy, democracy, or republic.


5. We are all loners among Them . I have no loyalty to any Us, and others are like myself. Homo homini lupus est.

6. All people are a brotherhood of equals, a big Us: an idealistic view. It would be realistic if not for the competition over a limited resource, and the resource of political power is always limited.

The ideologies are perceptions of the world from the point of view of Myself. The real world, i.e., the world outside Myself, has no I. The internal world, where I resides, has only a reflection of a small part of the outer world.

The dividing solid line in the figures means a transition barrier. In all the above figures I has solid borders, but in militant tribal ideologies this barrier can be quite low.

In my figures the light blue field of Them has a solid border. It separates legally recognized people from the fourth category, the white field, the non-people where neither of the first three abide.

The violent ideologies, like Fascism, Communism (against private owners), and Islamic terrorism, as well as some specifically targeting violent  "anti-" ideologies of race and cast supremacy (virulent anti-abortionists, too) exclude their targets not only from Us but also from Them and put them into the white field in the above figures. Those in the white field are pests and can or must be destroyed, always in the name of some noble cause.

My perception of myself has been changing with time.

At this stage of my life I believe that details of my deeply personal beliefs, habits, and memories do not matter.

In my childhood, my world was very small and mostly predictable. With the adulthood, the search for my place in the rapidly expanding by experience and education world  became painful and all-consuming. It was the time when Montaigne's Essays assured me that I had the right—not just an inclination—of independent thinking. I had discovered individualism. Montaigne was my first inoculation against communism in its post-Stalin form.

With age, especially, after 60, I got a feeling of shrinking self-importance, not just time. Looking through Montaigne, while writing this Essay,  I had an impression that Montaigne saw himself only as a sample of a human for study, a pretext for a discussion, and its starting point, as we use the weather to start conversation. I think that Montaigne was a good sample because he represented common sense not bound by ideology—the same common sense that took over Europe and North America after Industrial Revolution.

I consider myself a very odd and inappropriate sample for extrapolation. My views are usually different from the common sense views. My actions often surprise myself and I cannot always control them. I never wanted to be like everybody and to dwell in the hump of the bell curve. What I needed for success was Ideology 3 and I did not have it.

What makes me myself? I believe it is my search for the invariances of this world as a whole. Looking back I clearly see how it always distracted me from normal successful life despite my honest attempts to follow the general course. I liked the invisible world of ideas more than anything else our civilization had to offer and I still regard it as the highest luxury. Today anything else has as much attraction for me as a soap opera.

In my childhood I was greatly fascinated by the stories of the polar explorers Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Peary, Ernest Shackleton, and Robert Scott. It was my favorite reading at the age of ten.  I believe the idea of discovering something that had been there unseen by others had a strong appeal to me for the rest of my life, but I certainly lacked the ability to make it seen by others. Besides, when a cup of coffee is all you need to reach the mental South Pole, it is difficult to be the first.  Anyway,  I still enjoy my Sisyphean exercise very much.

I realize that in an individualistic society, paradoxically, an individual is perceived by his or her brand name, like a Chinese warrior by his war banners. The transition barrier into the space of attention is high from somebody outside the network.

NOTE. The space of attention and network of intellectuals are two of the basic components used by Randall Collins to construct his  The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: The Belknap Press, 1998.  Two other components are cultural capital, which seems similar to matter, and emotional energy, which is just what it says: energy. There is another possible interpretation: cultural capital as energy and emotional energy as temperature.

This unique and revealing book deserves the brightest spot in the space of attention for many reasons, including its innovative, colorful, and witty style. Its most interesting theoretical part is highly readable and absorbing. Philosophers, according to Randall Collins, look like a pack of monkeys grooming or snarling at each other. Just joking.

I do not know what matters most at the very end of life. I suspect it is the small love circle of  Us. We shall see.

What is my ideology?  Probably, #2:  I  am part of a small Us, but there are others like me and I have no access to them and to their neighborhoods.

I wish I had a different ideology, but there is nothing I can do. It is a tortured mindset, I am punished for it, but the punishment is sweet. Well, bitter-sweet. And coffee is still cheap.




Physics. a. (of modes of vibration of a system) having the same frequency. b. (of quantum states of a system) having equal energy. --n.

2.  On loyalty any many other things.: Robert B.Reich, The Future of Success. It is a wise, soft, prophetic book. No online review is good enough.

3. This Essay is the first one finished after September 11, 2001.

In the end of Chapter 15 of my Memoirs of 1984 I wrote:

 I know that if any ideology takes the place left in the world by communism, it will be orthodoxy and fundamentalism.  In the algebra of history the C-word stands not for Marxism-Leninism but for the rule of orthodoxy and fundamentalism of whatever content.

I think it is Ideology #6.





10. Physics. a. (of modes of vibration of a system) having the same frequency. b. (of quantum states of a system) having equal energy. --n.
2.  On loyalty any many other things.: Robert B.Reich, The Future of Success. It is a wise, soft, prophetic book. No online review is good enough.

3. This Essay is the first one finished after September 11, 2001.

        In the end of Chapter 15 of my Memoirs of 1984 I wrote:

 I know that if any ideology takes the place left in the world by communism, it will be orthodoxy and fundamentalism.  In the algebra of history the C-word stands not for Marxism-Leninism but for the rule of orthodoxy and fundamentalism of whatever content.
         I think it is Ideology #6.

Page created: 2001                                                     Revised: 2016

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